PTI’s moment of truth?

Published September 25, 2022
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

PTI LEADER Imran Khan, it seems, has now very few cards up his sleeve and will face his moment of truth once he announces his long march date, as the response to that call will determine whether or not he can force the government into agreeing to an early election.

With time running out, all eyes remain fixed on the hourglass to see if Mr Khan’s desire for an early election is realised within a certain time frame so that he can get to decide who will be the next army chief replacing Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is retiring at the end of November this year.

Despite demonstrating public support for his populist stance at his large rallies and in PTI’s Punjab by-election wins, Khan has openly expressed that his longevity in office — upon his return to power — hinges on the person who will be the next army chief.

Read: Who will be the next army chief?

His party’s constant narrative — whether based on facts, or to use former president Donald Trump’s top aide Kellyanne Conway’s euphemism ‘alternative facts’ — particularly on social media, is yet to be rivalled by any other political party or even challenged by the media.

Imran Khan’s impatience seems to have done his cause no good.

Ms Conway was questioned many times by journalists, one of whom shot back with “Alternative facts are not facts. They are falsehoods”. ‘Post-truth’ and ‘post-fact’ were words that referred to the environment that Trump thrived in — a world where ‘facts’, deemed irrelevant, were consigned to the past.

The term ‘post-truth society’ evolved when emotional appeals to swing public opinion were used and facts became irrelevant. Today’s ‘media managers’ and ‘spin doctors’ have added booster rockets to their messages by using social media.

Take our own example, where 65 per cent of the population is under 30 years and millions, a majority in fact, use smartphones, and a high proportion social media as well. Kudos to the PTI for tapping into this enormous new market.

With millions of captive supporters who have bought into the party’s narrative on social media, and with the bulk of YouTube and TikTok stars and their huge number of followers also in his camp, why should Khan attach so much importance to the selection of the next army chief?

The answer may lie in his evolution as a politician who struggled for a fairly long time, without his message resonating with the public even when he espoused popular causes. His rise to power can be traced to the backing he started to receive from what is euphemistically called the establishment. His government’s fall can be traced to his falling out with the same institution.

Accolades for his performance in office were not a patch on those he won as cricket ‘kaptaan’ and then as a fundraiser and cancer hospital builder. After his government left the economy teetering on the brink of collapse and was ousted through a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly, the coalition that replaced his administration decided to save the country from default, and had to take several decisions that pushed up inflation and caused immense hardship to most Pakistanis.

Needless to say, these tough decisions had a huge impact on the popularity of the PML-N (the major partner in the coalition). Smelling blood, the PTI started its mobilisation campaign and began circling around the coalition. Sensing the public anger, Khan went on the offensive and challenged both the army and judiciary to either side with him or face his wrath.

While initially the security apparatus appeared to be influenced and we heard of ideas like the ‘Pindi Plan’ to defuse the situation and perhaps move towards new elections, the digging in of heels by the ruling coalition and Imran Khan’s impatience seemed to have done his cause no good.

On more than one occasion in the past, he has reacted furiously to hearsay that suggest things may not be going his way. Perhaps, he watched a vlog by a supporter who left the army several decades ago and lives abroad now.

This gentleman cooked up a story about PPP leader Asif Zardari using his influence in the coalition to push for a particular person as the next chief upon the incumbent’s retirement.

Who knows if this was what the PTI leader watched and went into panic mode because he knew what would happen if the chief was not in his corner, and worse, if he perceived him to be in another camp.

Only such a perception on Mr Khan’s part would account for this outburst focusing on who should or should not appoint the army chief. When his rather outrageous concern went unaddressed he went on a fiercer offensive, using words and airing thoughts that seem to have proved counterproductive. Perhaps he went too far.

The devastating floods which displaced millions and continue to be the cause of homelessness and water-borne diseases, besides claiming over 1,500 lives and destroying standing crops worth billions, could well have a flip side.

Pakistan’s effective campaign to bring the world’s attention to the climate catastrophe and make the point that the country is suffering for someone else’s sins, seems to have had some effect. The IMF has hinted at extra funds and a relaxation of its conditionality regime; the World Bank has pledged funds to contribute to a sustainable rehabilitation effort, as has the European Commission.

This may mean that despite having the daunting challenge of rebuilding lives and infrastructure on such a massive scale, the financial managers of the country may find some breathing room to be able to give relief to the people. If this were to happen, the PML-N may well regain its lost support. Ergo, the PTI’s long march looks like a do-or-die situation for the party and its leader.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

abbas.nasir@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2022

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